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Oh Lord, make me good. But not yet


Augustine was evidently quite a rascal before God saved him. But then, weren’t we all?

He was born in A.D. 354 to a mother who was a devout Christian and a father who wasn’t (but supposedly converted to Christianity on his deathbed). Like all of us who are “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5), Augustine talks about wanting to do wrong at an early age when he stole fruit, which he describes in his Confessions as being “foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error — not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.”

And as Derek Kidner says in describing the Fall in his commentary on Genesis: “Sin’s fruit is shame”.  

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Augustine pursued sexual freedom at an early age, eventually having a son out of wedlock and going on to leave both him and his mother to begin the process of marrying a teenage heiress right before his conversion. Writing in his Confessions, he describes with full transparency the struggle he felt in leaving his old life behind. I laugh out loud every time I read it:

“But, wretched youth that I was — supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth — I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, 'Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.'”

Isn’t that great? You just don’t get that kind of honesty out of Christians these days. “OK God, I’m all in, but um, well, how about some holiness leeway for a little while on the sex and self-restraint front?”

Nope, instead gather in a group of other believers, and here’s what happens when the issue of sin comes up: nothing.

You know why? Because the issue of sin in our lives rarely, if ever comes up. We’re either too embarrassed or self-deceived to say what Paul did: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).

Is that because we maybe don’t “hate” what we’re doing like Paul said? Even to the point of feeling like Augustine admitted to and living in an “Oh Lord, make me good, but not yet” type of way?

If true, this leads to the scary question of, do we even want to be good?

I’m not OK and that’s OK

Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Dr. Jamieson Webster says maybe not; in fact, maybe we should not. He argues in his New York Times article “I Don’t Need to Be a ‘Good Person.’ Neither Do You.” that being ‘good’ in the way that we traditionally think restrains us from personal fulfillment saying, “Limits cannot hold when it comes to pleasure.”

He speaks about a conversation with a colleague who was tired of patients wanting to learn how to be good in a conventional sense and asked him, “Doesn’t anyone come asking to be more free?” “They don’t,” Webster replied pessimistically, “Everyone wants to make the right decisions … [and that] avoids the deeper question of desire, and desire is a compass.”

I’ll agree with his last point.

Our internal compass does indeed direct us, but the issue with the Christian is we have both an old and new “compass” that are at odds with one another. Our directive with respect to each is clear: “… in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22–24).

Easier said than done sometimes, as Augustine reminds us.

On the one hand, we’re told, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:9–10).

But on the other hand, the Bible says we’re made of the same stuff as Paul who wrote, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Rom. 7:19–21).

This dichotomy causes no end of angst in many believers who want to follow God’s Word that says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16), but instead find themselves still wrestling with desires that “wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). It can get so bad that they even start to doubt their salvation.

If that’s you, let me share some insight I got a while back from those great philosophers AC/DC who, writing in their song “Hell’s Bells,” characterize the road to Hell as being a place where:

"Nobody’s putting up a fight."  

Indeed. It’s both amusing and informative that even non-Christians like those guys see that.

A key difference between the Christian vs. the non is the believer does just the opposite — they put up a fight where sin is concerned. And if you are putting up a fight and working to resist sin, then that’s a good sign you have the Holy Spirit who is convicting you, which results in all of us looking heavenward more times than we would like and crying out, “Be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Augustine eventually overcame his “but not yet” desire on his quest for personal holiness and so will you and I. So, until that happens, keep putting up a fight.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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